One of the first computer courses I took at university in 1970 had to do with the impact that computers would have society, a course that changed my life, not because of anything to do with the social impact of computers, but because my professor was a first year prof, and announced at the first lecture that he was far too busy to teach a course on the social impact on of technology, so he was going to teach us the same content as those who had registered for the advanced computer science program were getting, hence by accident I learned how to program. I had signed up to learn about how computers would change society and what society might do with all that information. Today, some 50-years after that first lecture, the buzz is all about data, and companies abilities to mine that data for all sorts of purposes, some good and some not so good.
What amazes me is that people are so concerned about it. What did they think was going to happen? Take a step back and think about what data or information you are transmitting all day long. In my world, every appointment, every contact, every purchase, is stored on the web. I receive an email confirmation about every credit card purchase I make. When I go out for a meal, it’s likely that I will post a message on social media with pictures about what I had and how I enjoyed it. When I drive around, my smartphone is constantly updating the internet about where I am and how fast I’m travelling. And I’m just one person. In reality there are hundreds of millions of us all doing the same thing. The risk is that some very smart people with some very powerful computers are quietly sitting in the background analyzing everything we do for profit and or gain.
Reporting for Computer Insider, I’m Bob Pritchard